6 Questions with Julie Mayhew

We asked Julie Mayhew about her new book The Big Lie, about being a writer and her favourite books!

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The Big Lie is published on August 27th - why not read our apprentice's review - click HERE to give it a read.

1) What was your inspiration for writing this book? 
“My son. He wanted to know what would have happened if the Nazis had won WW2 and I had no clue what to say. I started hunting for a book but found that all of the best-selling speculative WW2 fiction is written for adults, and predominantly by men about men. Still, I didn’t really consider myself up to the job of filling the gap; I hadn't even studied WW2 for GCSE. In the end it was Justin Bieber who set me on the path to writing The Big Lie. He had visited Anne Frank's house and left this note in the visitor's book: Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber. Many people thought this disrespectful but it made me think about how she might well have liked Justin had she been a young girl today. So I decided to set my book in a contemporary Britain, with the focus on teenage girls."

2) What were the main challenges that you faced when writing this book?
“I was concerned that readers may not accept a protagonist as flawed as Jessika. She is a Nazi after all – how can we allow ourselves to identify with that? But what stayed with me from my research was how children in Nazi Germany were conditioned to believe in the regime. Their pictures books, songs, even the questions in their science books all contained Fascist ideology. It would have seemed absolutely normal to them. This got me thinking about what I believe in that isn’t true. We all get subtle messages about race, class and gender as we grow up - messages that often need to be challenged."

3) As a child or young teenager, did you want to be a writer and if so, is it as you expected? “I did want to be a writer – I used to write plays for my friends to perform at school and as a teenager I tried to write shorts stories like the ones I read in my mum's magazines. But going back to that idea of things we believe in that aren't true – I thought that people like me weren't allowed to be writers. I never met anyone else who wrote fiction or drama when I was growing up. I was sure you needed to come from a posh, literary family or go to a very fancy school. Of course, I eventually found out that isn't true at all. I wish I'd had given myself permission to write a novel when I was 21."

4) Who are the writers that have influenced you?
“I grew up reading a lot of Stephen King as a teenager. I loved his ability to needle into your psyche and play with your fears. After that, I fell in love with Margaret Atwood - she taught me what it was going to be like to be a grown-up. I wasn't interested in all those romances about finding a man, and she was the first writer I discovered who was writing intelligently and incisively about the full breadth of female experience. My current literary crush is AM Homes – her ability to mix tragedy and proper laugh out loud humour is something I aspire to."

5) What's in your reading pile currently?
“Now that I've finished writing my alt-history, I'm working my way through the classics because I have to confess I'd never read any of them. I'm just finishing Len Deighton's SSGB and loving the firsthand detail he brings to post-war London. Next, I'm going to read Lucia Berlin's short story collection A Manual For Cleaning Women. I help run a night of short story cabaret called The Berko Speakeasy so am always on the hunt for stories that work well out loud. After that I'm definitely diving into Laura Dockrill's YA mermaid novel Lorali."

6) What is your all time favourite book?
“Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan – a short, painful but beautiful examination of how it feels to grow-up."

The Big Lie is available in paperback for £7.99 (£5.99 for William Brookes Students). To pre-order your copy from Wenlock Books, click HERE